Andreas Seppi made sure Italy booked their place in the first finals of the revamped Davis Cup, outclassing top-ranked Indian Prajnesh Gunneswaran in straight sets to give the Italians a 3-1 win over India on Saturday. Seppi, ranked 37 in the world, brushed aside Gunneswaran 6,1, 6-4 in a match lasting 62 minutes to give Italy an unbeatable 3-1 lead. Trailing 0-2 after opening day, India avoided a whitewash as Rohan Bopanna and Divij Sharan kept India’s slender hopes alive by beating Simone Boelleli and Matteo Berrettini 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 in an hour and 43 minutes.
However, Seppi, unfazed by the loss in the doubles, outplayed 102-ranked Gunneswaran to take his team into the finals in Madrid in November. The final dead singles game was not played.
On a career high ranking of 102, Prajnesh had no chance in the first set and though the left-hander gave a better account of himself in the second set, a share of 40 unforced errors dashed his hopes.
World number 19 India will now compete in the Zone Group action later this year.
Terming it frustrating, Indian non-playing captain Mahesh Bhupathi said: “All of us had a belief but we needed to win a point yesterday. It was a monumental task to win back from 0-2 down.”
Italy boast of three players inside top-60 but no Indian features in the world’s top 100 and Bhupathi said the country needs to have a reality check after the loss.
“We need to come into the real world. Once the Madrid list (of 12 nations) is out, I want you to see if they have any player outside top-100. Of course, we were dying to go to Madrid. But you can’t expect miracles,” he said.
Having got a first round bye, India advanced to the World Group play-offs after defeating China 3-2 in the Asia/Oceania Zone Group I in Tianjin. They lost to Serbia 0-4 in the World Group play-offs in Kraljevo to be drawn against Italy who lost to France 1-3 in the quarters in Genoa.
“It’s been great to work with them. Prajnesh has made all the way up to 102 from 300 in two years. There’s a lot of potential,” Bhupathi, whose term is also coming to an end with the Davis Cup tie, said.
Italy thus extended their head-to-head record against India to 5-1 with the hosts having an upper hand at the same grass courts in 1985.
However, India’s gamble on grass flopped this time with the 1976 champions Italy emerging as one of the 12 qualifiers to join 2018 champions Croatia, runners-up France, and semi-finalists Spain and USA in the Finals to be held in Madrid in November.
Britain and Argentina have got wild cards in the 18-team Finals which will feature six groups of three teams, with the six group winners and two best-performing group runners-up competing in the quarter-finals, semi-finals and the summit clash on November 24.
(With PTI Inputs)